A biopic about the tragic life of '60s It-girl Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl gets many things right but too many things wrong. On the bright side, the delightful period art direction is delicious. Hair, makeup, costumes, furniture, and even the streets of 1966 New York are all brought to life in a truly enrapturing style. Also in Factory Girl's favor is the spot-on Guy Pearce, whose impeccable Andy Warhol focuses on the artist's frail health and cosmetic imperfections in a way that other actors, bowled over by Warhol's intense cool, have missed.
The title role is played by Sienna Miller and unfortunately, as competently as Miller enacts emotion and affects the perfect upper-class New-England accent, she notably lacks the saucer-eyed, doleful innocence that the real Sedgwick exuded. She doesn't quite look right for the part, and while the script makes it clear that Sedgwick feverishly hungers for love and attention, Miller's performance barely hints at this puppy-doggish desperation, glossing it over with a more superficial charm, followed by an inevitable crash when her popularity wanes and she turns to hard drugs to fill the void. Still, it's easy to see why Miller was cast as the lead in Factory Girl. Having become an obsession in the press because of her relationship with Jude Law, Miller was a media It-girl before her first movie was even released, making her a similar "famous for being famous" kind of figure. Not to mention that there's an insanely long, near-pornographic sex scene with Bob Dylan stand-in "Billy Quinn" (played by a half-present Hayden Christensen) right in the middle of the movie, which would go from distracting to disturbing with an actress as wide-eyed, and almost childish as the real Sedgwick.
Dylan is the only member of the 20-some-person ensemble in Factory Girl to have his name changed, apparently for legal reasons, as the film lays much of the blame for Sedgwick's downfall in his lap. However, the movie is so cheesy and unfocused in this regard that a name change is the least of its problems. Too many scenes play out with hokey, TV-movie-esque dialogue or trite, corny character sequences that would work out fine in a romantic comedy but not here, where they stand in embarrassing contrast to the grittiness of Sedgwick's apparent inner torture. Also, much of the film's clarity seems to have been lost in the editing room. As the third act unfolds and Sedgwick begins to unravel, there are an increasing number of weird, confusing moments where it's not clear if we're supposed to read the scene literally, abstractly, or as a depiction of Sedgwick's drug-induced hallucinations -- and not in a visceral, takes-you-to-the-mouth-of-madness kind of way, just in an awkward, I-don't-know-what's-supposed-to-be-happening kind of way. It all keeps the movie from being great, but it doesn't stop it from believably playing out Sedgwick's crash and burn like a train-wreck candid reality show, leaving you free to crane your neck as you drive by.